Garbage pickup struggle in Friendship as local governments face manpower shortages

The Town of Friendship is seeking ways to overcome an immediate manpower shortage for garbage pickup while it and other local governments struggle with similar shortages in various workforce positions.

Town Supervisor Russ Hall told a gathering of local officials last week, during an Allegany County District II Legislators meeting with residents, that three of the four town personnel, some part-time, who man the refuse truck say they will be gone from town employment next week for various reasons, with the local government scrambling to find ways to fill the positions.

Although Village of Belmont Mayor Raymond DeTine, who was present at the meeting, said he was willing to send over some of his crew for pickup day, it didn’t solve the overall problem.

Belmont, in the meantime, along with Cuba officials, said it was encountering the same problems with filling police positions as part-time officers, often employed full-time in other departments, move back and forth as various local governments jockey in raising officer wages.

They also noted that vacancies in other positions are or have caused concern, including highway and administrative/clerical positions.

Hall said the town may be forced to hire additional full-time, instead of part-time, personnel but this would be difficult due to its budget for the year already being in place.

The Village of Belmont has had openings in positions of police, deputy clerk/treasurer, court clerk, and a worker with a commercial driver license (CDL) for its garbage truck.

DeTine noted the village is fortunate to have some of the youngest personnel with sewer and water treatment plant operator licenses, with individuals in similar positions in several other local governments getting close to retirement age.

County District Legislators Gretchen Hanchett and Dwight (Mike) Healy of Belmont and John Ricci of Cuba said the county also is going through the same situation due to its current wage scales, with the county recently going through a wage survey for non-union personnel which resulted in some significant salary increases.

In response to a question from the audience as to why the county wasn’t re-opening its labor contracts to overcome turnover in lower level positions, legislators said this had been discouraged by its administrative team until it comes time to re-negotiate the documents.

Local officials asked county representatives about receiving financial assistance from the county, one of the few in the state not sharing sales tax revenue, which has been rising by millions of dollars annually.

County legislators indicated that although there had been consideration to use some of its federal pandemic funds to provide $25,000 to $50,000 one-time payments to each local government, this appears to have fallen by the wayside as to how to administer such distributions.

The county, as Allegany Hope Community News has reported previously, is holding a nearly $48.8 million surplus, or more than one-and-a-half times an entire year’s property tax bill to county taxpayers, and $16 million more at the end of last year than the year before.

At the same time, however, Allegany County legislators continue to maintain the second highest true value property tax rate in the state and the third highest general sales tax, with the ability this year, with its surplus, to have had a one-year moratorium on all county property taxes and still have more than $19 million left over for any cash flow needs.

As we reported earlier this week, the county as a whole also has one of the highest overall effective tax rates in the United States, being the second or third from the top in 2020 and 2021, possibly declining slightly in position last year due to a major jump in property sales prices.

We also reported last fall that, according to the New York State Comptroller, 19 of 29 towns in Allegany County are within the top 10 percent in property taxes in the state, with 13 being within the highest five percent.

Six out of its 10 villages also were in the top 10 percent last year, with all being within the top third in the state.

School districts are another setting where labor struggles are occurring, with a shortage of teachers, specialized staff and bus drivers appearing to be the most acute.

In Whitesville, for example, consideration is being given to bus high school students to Andover this fall due to a number of unexpected teacher vacancies occurring at one time.